Have you ever wanted to play a game where you’re the only human in a high school full of pigeons? How about one where your girlfriend suddenly and inexplicably turns into an alpaca? Perhaps you want to play a game where you pick a romantic suitor from a pack of dinosaurs, instead? If any of those appeal to you, you’ll want to check out a dating simulator.
This uniquely Japanese brand of video games have been popular for years overseas, but have become more and more popular in the West with the release of several hugely popular titles. As the name implies, dating simulators ask the player to focus on picking a suitor and using their time in game to effectively woo them. They have usually been centered around a male playable character, with several female characters to choose from. However, ‘otome’ games, or dating simulators where the roles are reversed, have become more and more popular in recent years.
There have been several very successful dating simulators, such as early example Tenshitachi no Gogo from 1985, Magical Date, and LovePlus. The most recent one you may well have heard of, though, is Hatoful Boyfriend.
Released in 2012 for PC and recently retooled for iOS, this loving send up of the genre places your character in St. PigeonNation’s, a high school for pigeons that exists in a time where birds are the dominant species. Yes, you read that right. As with most dating simulators, you pick your quarry early on, and focus on your relationship with them, hoping you interact enough for the pigeon in question to consider dating you. However, further into the game, there’s enough cheeky asides and vaguely worrying visuals to make you suspect that everything isn’t as it seems.
With its static visuals and choice based system, Hatoful Boyfriend is perfect for app gaming. It’s joined a marketplace where the dating simulator has really taken off. Search ‘dating simulator’ on Google Play and you’ll get hundreds of titles available for you. Interestingly, they seem to be overwhelmingly aimed at women. They also play off popular trends in pop culture, as seen in the Shall We Date? WizardessHeart+ app, and the bizarre but intriguing Five Nights at Freddy’s homage, Five Tries At Love.
It seems like the app medium has become the new home for dating simulators. With a faster turnaround on development, they can follow trends more closely. Also, the dating simulator format is perfectly suited to gaming on the go, in short bursts, rather than more protracted playthroughs that a gamer might encounter on consoles or PC. Whatever happens though, it seems the genre isn’t going away any time soon. With a parody like Hatoful Boyfriend becoming the most popular example of the genre though, who knows where it will go next?